See larger image here:
Map from: Waddell, Steve. 2005. A Learning History of the CARE LAC - Institute for Strategic Clarity Guatemala Poverty Project. Institute for Strategic Clarity, March 15
We can easily be overwhelmed by the complexity of our work. Every non-profit works with “systems” – internal ones relating to how work gets done, issue systems relating to the topic that the NGO is working to address, and mental model systems about strategy. Clearly “seeing” those systems is important for success. There are new forms of “mapping”, including social network analysis, which can vastly enhance and speed understanding of the systems. They are diagrams of arrows and nodes that can communicate tremendous amounts of information visually much more easily than volumes of text.
Note from Beth: As visiting scholar at the Packard Foundation, I'm connecting with other people who are studying and learning about how networks work. A lot of the ideas resonate with using online social networks and social media effectively for nonprofits, especially in the larger frame of movement building. This week at the Packard Foundation, I had the opportunity to meet Steve Waddell whose research focuses on Global Action Networks.
One of the tools for better understanding networks are visual diagnostics and mapping techniques. This another area of Steve's interest and expertise. He co-authored a paper called "Visual Diagnostics and Mapping for Scaling Change" and we had an opportunity to discuss it. He agreed to write a four-part primer on a visual diagnostics, mapping, and social networking analysis primer and how nonprofits might use these tools for social change.
Within a system are stakeholders that can include individuals, organizations, networks of organizations, the range of their actions, their ways of thinking vis-à-vis the issue, and the natural and man-created environmental factors that influence the system. Stakeholders may or may not identify themselves as participants in the system. One of the challenges of developing an issue system is to build participants’ identity with it; this is critical to creating effective action to realize opportunities, address needs and respond to challenges.
A core concept in systems mapping is “purpose”. Generally there are three types of purposes that are priorities for non-profits to understand.
- Production System: The purpose here is the non-profit’s itself, and the maps describe relationships and roles in realizing the purpose; this commonly models how the organization does its work.
- Issue System: This system is where the non-profit is one of many entities that are working to address an issue such as health care, deforestation, peace, and community development.
- Mental Models: These visuals describe how people (individuals, groups) think the world works, such as theories of change, power structures, and cause-effect models in general.
Each type of mapping has specific benefits. The production system maps aid an organization to understand how work actually gets done, in comparison to formal org charts. This analysis can assist in bringing greater alignment between the two, which in turn reduces conflict and enhances productivity.
Issue mapping allows a non-profit to understand key leverage points in the bigger system it is trying to influence. These are points that, when focused upon, have a large ratio of amount-of-effort to desired-change. The focus can involve application of resources, or actually reducing resources.
The mental model mapping can uncover conflict, make it discussable, and enhance effectiveness. People can understand why someone else is doing what they are doing. Often this helps people understand that their mental model may be important, but incomplete vis-à-vis the change goal – and therefore help people’s respective efforts connect much more effectively.
These maps can include literally hundreds of nodes and arrows, or very few. Experience working with people around the world proves that even relatively complex systems with even a couple of hundred nodes can be understood by people with very limited education. Key is a participatory development process. The map illustrating this post was developed by a couple of dozen people in Guatemala from their mental models, to support CARE to vastly enhance its impact. An evaluation a year later showed that the process was transformational from two perspectives: people had significantly changed their relationships (who they were working with), and they had significantly changed how they understood their work vis-à-vis others’.
This is part 1 of a series of social networking analysis techniques. The next installment will explain two types of social networking analysis techniques, web crawling and inter-personal/inter-organizational ties.
What are your questions about system mapping and how you might use this in organization's strategy for movement building?
As Principal of Networking Action, Steve Waddell applies his 20+ years of experience in multi-stakeholder network development to address complex issues regionally and globally.